Coming to Grips With God’s Judgment
I’m in a read-the-Bible-in-a-year program. Each day I listen to a short reflection on the chapters I’ve read. Recently I read the record in Exodus of Israel’s repeated failures of faith. Each led to complaint against God. God responded sometimes with more blessings, but sometimes with chastening.
Like many people, I’ve wondered why, after the miracles in Egypt and the miraculous delivery through the Red Sea, the Israelites fell into complaint so much. It seems so obvious how crazy they were to do that.
But then I’m forced, if I’m honest, to think hard about myself. How many wonderful provisions has God given me, day after day, throughout my life? And yet, I complain. Over and over again! Only when I forget how much I complain can I be so amazed at how much they did.
Similarly, when I think, “Why did God kill all these people?” The Egyptians here, the Amalekites there, Israelites when they rebelled, and Canaanite tribes. I can wonder, “Is it just?”
A Look Into My Soul
But I can wonder that only so long as I don’t look deeply into my own soul. When I look, I recognize how completely I deserve exactly the same thing.
God tells me to love Him with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind. Even if He hadn’t told me that, surely His infinite goodness, love, wisdom, power, and everything else about Him, deserves, even demands, that I love Him that way.
It’s tempting to justify myself, saying, “Well, not always, but sometimes.” But, have I ever loved Him so totally and perfectly? Even for one second?
He tells me to love my neighbor as myself. Have I done that toward every one of my neighbors, every moment of my life — or any moment? How about something simpler? He tells me not to lie. Have I ever lied? (Do birds have wings?!?) He tells me not to commit adultery — and explains that even if I’ve ever lusted for someone not my own wife, I’ve committed adultery in my heart. Have I ever done that? Honestly?
And right down through the Ten Commandments. Have I ever prioritized something else before God? Then I have a “god before Him.” Have I ever made and worshiped idols? (Never mind my idolizing wealth or comfort. How about my remaking God to be the way I want Him to be rather than taking Him as He is? As He’s revealed Himself to be, including in passages of Scripture that tell of His doing things I don’t understand?) Have I ever taken God’s name in vain, not just in blatant profanity but even in carelessness?
Have I ever dishonored my parents? Been angry at someone without just cause? (Jesus said if I have, I’ve murdered him in my heart.) Stolen from my employer by not working at full steam while on payroll? Or stolen time or trust from someone by failing to keep my word to meet him at a specific time and place? Slandered someone, even slightly? Coveted the wealth or status or wonderful marriage or home life someone else has?
We’re All Sinners
So, what am I? If I’m honest with myself, I’m a worshiper of false gods; an idolater; a blasphemer; an ungrateful and dishonoring child; a murderer; an adulterer; a thief; a liar and slanderer; and a coveter (which God says in Colossians is an idolater).
So, were the Egyptians God killed by the plagues not all bad people? Well, on a relative scale, some might have been “good people.” But on God’s absolute scale? They, just like me, were all sinners, serial breakers of every one of God’s commandments.
No wonder when someone called Him “Good teacher,” Jesus responded, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Which should have hinted, “Who do you think I am, if you call Me good?”) Only God is good — not I, and not anyone else (except Jesus — who was God!)
We All Need a Mediator
When I look at things this way, then instead of being amazed that God killed all those Egyptians, or the rebellious Israelites throughout all their centuries, I’m amazed. I’m amazed that He gives any one of us, including me, even so much as a minute of even the slightest pleasure and joy.
And that, in turn, helps me understand why God used Moses to give all kinds of good things to His people rather than just doing it Himself.
He did it through Moses, as He would do it through other leaders throughout all Israel’s history, to show them that no one could approach Him directly. Everyone needs a mediator.
And as the Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear, all those earlier mediators fell short. So God provided the perfect Mediator by becoming a man in Christ Himself. As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:5, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is President of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and author of Psalms of Promise: Celebrating the Majesty and Faithfulness of God.